Thursday, September 3, 2009

The New "Poor"

The face of our country's poor has changed.

Remember when poor people were crack babies born to moms that were welfare suckers in the ghetto?

Remember when poor people lived in trailers, drove camaros and got high on meth everyday while wearing fuzzy slippers and rollers at all hours?

See, those were the good ol' days. Our country was mostly rolling in dough, and if you didn't have any, you either were too lazy to work, couldn't sell high-class drugs and you were ghetto/trailer trash. We all know that this stands for "black" and "white" poor people in subtext, but that's another discussion.

But with this recession and the war, the face of the poor has changed. And THAT is why there is higher talk of health care reform and more fervent town hall people who are 90% shouting about nothing.

Poor #1 is MBA guy. He worked for a corporation. He lived a 2-hour commute from the big city, made $400,000 a year and it wasn't enough. He worked for a good company and commuted because it was cheaper to live out in the sub sub suburbs, even though he rarely saw his family b/c he was always at work. He figures in 5 years the sacrifices will be worth it.

The recession hits, and his company, albeit a successful start up, folds. Why? Because the bank they borrowed money from stopped their line of credit.Why? Because they loaned out a lot of money for home loans to people who couldn't afford them. Those loans were chopped up and sold as stock, which is now worthless. So the bank folds. The job folds. MBA man is now jobless. For six months he looks, but the former competition has also closed up shop.
He's now in unemployment, or living with his parents with entire family in tow.

Poor #2 is the hard wage earner who never owned a home. In 2005 he's told that his $8 an hour can get him a nice home for less than normal payments. They'll go up in 4 years, but in 2 years he can refinance to a lower-interest loan, therefore skirting the payments. He's sure to move up in earnings by then anyway! His house will go up a third in value within a year, so why not take out a loan and live a little?
2007 rolls around and for some reason every bank denies the re-fi. Why? They can't risk it; too many loans are defaulting. In 2008 wage-earner is let go from his small-business company because they were the first in line to lose LOCs at the bank. 2009 rolls around and wage-earner has no job and his payments are going from "barely makin it" to "we absolutely can't make it". He, too, is now living with his parents, with family in tow.

Poor #3 is Good Neighbor. He's worked 15 years for the same company. He never took out more than he could afford in loans. His home rose in value, but he refused to get a HELOC or sell it and get a bigger place. He's holding out on saving the HELOC for his kids' education. His kids are good, smart ones that will likely get partial scholarships to college. But he loses his job because the company has folded in the recession. He maintains his house payment, but dollars are getting tight. He gets another job, but it pays considerably less and stretches the dollars more. He dreams of still sending his kids off to school, but he now can't afford to send them b/c he can't get a HELOC loan from any bank. The kids are still at home and they can't go to school. His health takes a turn for the worse from the stress, and now his savings are sucked up from health care costs.

These are the new faces of poor. Perhaps you know some of them. Some made bad choices, some did not. Regardless, they aren't ghetto rats or trailer trash. They are your neighbors. So the next time you want to complain about having to pay for other people's mistakes and supporting the poor....

Don't think about them.

Think about their children.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


It was 1984. I'm living in a third-world country. I have a nice house, but my neighbors live in straw huts. Our neighborhood is nice and clean, but some of the streets a few blocks over smell of garbage. I'm 10 years old and have almost infinitely more money than the boy next door, but by American standards our family is middle class. The differences on paper between my family and most in the neighborhood are staggering.

But one thing we had in common was Michael Jackson.

When "Thriller" hit it big, there were no more races left in the world. There were no more colors, no more classes, no more money. All you knew is that everyone was either going to learn all the moves to "Thriller", buy a jacket like the one he war in "Beat It", or figure out how to moonwalk. Many of us tried to sing like Michael Jackson. Every street vendor sold a "minus one" tape of Michael Jackson songs with no vocals so you could perfect your act. Books of lyrics to all the "Thriller" songs were hot, too. I spent many days lining out the bad English and correcting spellings and off-lyrics. You see where THAT got me!

Michael Jackson wasn't just music. When you lived in the Philippines as a military brat, it was a strange mix of being ahead and behind at once. We were close to Japan, so CDs and other neat technology was in our hands before the States. But the States knew what was hot six months before we did. There was no internet or cell phone technology to keep people in the loop. Yet Michael Jackson was hot at every time, all the time. He was our "connect". There wasn't anyone who wasn't a fan. There wasn't a boy who didn't twist an ankle or break his momma's vase practicing the moonwalk.

In fact, you've probably watched so many MJ videos by now and didn't realize you were tapping your feet. Your legs have spasmed a few times to "Smooth Criminal". Even the kids are high-kicking that left leg, tossing Skechers across the kitchen. You all, once again, have no colors or class. You are all quietly mourning in your heart, maybe not shedding a tear, but on the outside you are paying tribute by singing along and tapping that foot. Whatever you believe about him, whatever you think he did or didn't do, however he died, whatever his issues, remember that as magic as Michael was, he was human just like you. Yet his gift from God was to entertain, enlighten, perform, and give like no other. You all know it. That's why you are tapping that foot.

It is 1984 again.

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